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The Wizard: The Life of Stanley Matthews By Jon Henderson

Release date: 02nd May, 2013
Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press

List Price: £18.99
Our Price: £12.72
You Save: £6.27 (33%)
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Younger visitors to Stoke City's Britannia Stadium may consider the enormous oblong plinth, which stands adjacent to the ground and supports a trio of sculptures dedicated to one man, a little overdone.

The famous footballer each figure portrays is almost 9' high, but his innate sense of balance, even as a statue, remains wonderfully evident.

In real life, Sir Stanley Matthews's balance was awesome; if you think Lionel Messi's Subbuteo-style ability to stay upright while dribbling through a defence intent on kicking lumps out of him is impressive, then watch a video of Sir Stan doing it at pace. Bear in mind that he's wearing shinpads thicker than a bag of sugar and heavy, bull-nosed boots while controlling a ball roughly the same weight as a paving slab - which he invariably crosses for his centre forward to bury in the back of the net.

Nor is this another sepia-tinted greybeard reflection. Amongst the many anecdotes which confirm Sir Stan's greatness, author Jon Henderson recounts the tale of him playing for England against Belgium at the Heysel Stadium immediately after the war. With England pegged back to 3-2 (they had led 3-0), he embarked upon an intricate dribble and then lofted the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper for Tom Finney to head into the empty net.

Such was the breathtaking wizardry of England's outside right that as he walked back towards the centre circle, the whole stadium - 75,000 people - stood and applauded. The other 21 players on the pitch did the same.

Henderson also manages to convey the post-war spirit of politeness and good manners which made Sir Stan's appearance in the 1953 FA Cup final between Blackpool and Bolton so special.

Already in his forties, most spectators and, for the first time, a mass TV audience, believed this would be Matthews's final match. He had twice been a losing finalist and, with just over 20 minutes remaining and Blackpool trailing 3-1, the outlook appeared bleak.

Though Stan Mortensen scored a hat trick, the match is forever remembered as the Matthews Final as Blackpool won 4-3. Read Henderson's account and you'll understand why.

This is a marvellous, well-written biography which doesn't shirk from exploring controversial episodes in Sir Stan's life, but it's for his mazy runs, tenacity and balance, evident in a career spanning 33 years, that he was justifiably known as the Wizard.


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